Collective Experience

Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz's assemblage of cutting-edge contemporary works boldly questions the traditional definition of Latin American art

Conspicuous white spaces and thick strands of loose picture wire evidence the absence of some of the artworks that usually hang in the high-walled, sunlit living room of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz's spacious Key Biscayne home. Two paintings -- Star Gazer, by the Mexican modernist Rufino Tamayo, and Orchestra Pit, by the Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta -- are currently on loan to the University of Miami's Lowe Art Museum for the exhibition "Latin American Art in Miami Collections."

Elsewhere in the living room, Sea Bitch Born Deep, a large, hectic painting charged with Santeria symbolism that is an exceptional example of the work of Cuban painter Carlos Alfonzo, is present on one wall, while a figurative painting alluding to Afro-Cuban ritual by artist Jose Bedia hangs high on the back wall, above glass doors that lead to the house's garden and pool. But a yellow apartment floor plan painted on a twin-size mattress by Guillermo Kuitca is gone from its place on the left side of the room; the piece is on tour as part of a retrospective exhibition of the celebrated young Argentine artist's work that just opened at Miami's Center for the Fine Arts (CFA). And for the moment, another important Kuitca painting, Kristallnacht, which belongs in a nook outside the living room doorway, can be seen at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, part of a major exhibition dealing with the Holocaust.

"When I'm asked to loan a work, I respond," says Rosa de la Cruz, emerging from her study on a recent morning with a list of a dozen institutions in different parts of the country that have pieces on loan from her and her husband's collection of nearly 200 works. "When things go out, other things take their place. I don't want to create a deposit of artworks; they should be seen outside of my house. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see that these artists are recognized. As collectors we have a responsibility to support the work of an artist. It's not just buying. Buying is the easy part."

Other pieces are absent from various parts of the house, christened Punta alegre (Happy Point) by the de la Cruzes: a light installation by the Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres consisting of 45 light bulbs with porcelain sockets; Chilean Alfredo Jaar's Terra non descoperta, an installation of three two-sided light boxes that show ocean images on one side, and pictures of indigenous Latin American peoples on the other side, the latter reflected in fifteen small mirrors decorated with gold leaf hung on a wall behind the boxes; Miami artist Cesar Trasobares's Vitrine, a wooden box filled with Cuban-American artifacts; Lost Forest Reliquary, an altarlike structure containing a slice of trunk and other pieces of wood, by Uruguay's Rimer Cardillo; and about a half dozen other works, all of which have been loaned to the Lowe.

Additionally, the Colombian-born artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's Flotilla -- three truck-tire inner tubes marked "Nina-Rio Grande," "Pinta-Palm Beach," and "Santa Maria-Key West," respectively -- and several other pieces by young Latin artists belonging to the couple were part of a show called "Exodus" that was on display in December at the South Florida Art Center. Finally, Andres Serrano's Cibachrome photograph of a Ku Klux Klan member, Klansman (Imperial Wizard III), plus two other photographic works by the controversial artist are part of a traveling one-man exhibition scheduled for the CFA in May.

"I don't want to buy only validated art," points out de la Cruz, a slim blond woman who moves swiftly about the house in a tailored skirt, T-shirt, and suede loafers. "My whole focus is to document a decade. We're interested in collecting art that is happening now." Although the couple usually visits exhibitions and goes to artists' studios together, it is Rosa who oversees the day-to-day maintenance of the collection, the loans to museums, and philanthropic endeavors such as providing funding for artists' shows or exhibition catalogues.

"For me business is still my main focus," concedes Carlos de la Cruz. "But for Rosa this has become a true passion."

The de la Cruzes, both born in Cuba, met in Miami when they were in their teens, marrying when Carlos was twenty years old and Rosa nineteen. The couple lived in Philadelphia, New York City, and Madrid before moving back to Miami in 1975. Carlos, a businessman with an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School and a law degree from the University of Miami, is the chairman of Eagle Brands, the Anheuser-Busch distributor in Dade County. His holdings also include three local car dealerships. Now in their early fifties, the de la Cruzes have five grown children.

For their first A paper A wedding anniversary, Carlos's gift to his wife was Mainstreams of Modern Art, a classic 1959 art-history tome written by John Canaday. Wherever they lived, the de la Cruzes went to galleries and museums regularly. "We were always going to galleries and we talked about buying art. But with five kids, we didn't have the money," remembers Carlos. "Then we saw that we could afford it and we began buying, and it sort of became our hobby. We really just drifted into collecting." Like many other Cuban collectors in Miami, at first they bought modern works.

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